Whether you're a heavyweight or a lightweight, if you're lifting weights to stay fit there are a few rules of the road. Below, Jim Ramsay, team trainer for the New York Rangers, and Dr. Jonathan Glashow, sports medicine orthopedic surgeon and consultant to the Rangers, offer tips that will help you maximize your workout.
Q: How should people get started with weight training if they've not done it before?
JIM RAMSAY: When people start up at a fitness facility, they should talk with a fitness professional. Discuss some goals with them. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to lose weight? Get a fitter body? Do you play a sport? Or do you just want to improve your health? So goal setting is the first item of business.
Q: How many repetitions do you suggest starting out with?
JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: Start with ten to fifteen repetitions. These reps should be done comfortably and in the correct form. Too many people sacrifice form for weights, meaning they lift far too much weight and their form suffers. You don't gain anything by using heavy weights with poor form. Isolating the muscle you want to work and doing it correctly prevents injury and you get more out of it.
Q: What should you expect to feel when you're starting out?
JIM RAMSAY: Initially there's going to be a lot of muscle soreness and aches and pains that you aren't used to feeling. Try to do two to three sets of ten to fifteen repetitions. By the first set of fifteen, you should feel a little bit of fatigue in the muscle. If you don't then your weight's too light. The first couple of sessions are going to be trial and error. If by ten or fifteen you can't lift any more and maintain the proper positioning and form, then the weight is too heavy. So there's a lot of trial and error in that first adaptation phase.
Q: By the end of your sets how should the muscles feel?
JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: I think what you're trying to bring out is the point of failure, meaning you can no longer do that repetition properly without some slight assistance. That means you've exhausted the muscle completely.
Q: And where does the role of "spotter" fit in?
JIM RAMSAY: Having a spotter there and available, or a professional with you so that they can maintain your form while you're doing the exercise is very important. The muscle has done everything that you've wanted it to do in proper form and you're going to achieve your goals through that failure aspect of the muscle.
Q: How much time should you rest between sets?
JONATHAN: I think it depends on how much weight you're lifting and what your goals are. When body builders are doing very heavy weights, like the bench press or squats, they rest three to four minutes between sets. I think a very common mistake is to go from set to set and not give your body a chance to recoup. If you don't wait at least a couple of minutes when doing significantly heavy sets, you're cheating yourself because you're not giving your body the chance to replete or gain the substrates and chemicals within the muscles to have them contract maximally again.
So maybe two minutes, maybe three minutes between heavy sets. But people doing lighter weights can recover more quickly. Sprinters, for instance. They don't have to wait as long.
Q: The bicep curl is a fairly common exercise. Can you describe the proper form?
JIM RAMSAY: Typically it's a two second lift and then a one second pause at the top and then a two or three second lower or extended phase on the way down, with a one second pause. It's slow and under control, and maximizing the muscle. Really focus on what you're doing. Feel the muscle working, and maintain your form. Don't just do them as fast as you can.
JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: The two key words are control and focus. It's far better to control the weight at the proper resistance and focus on that muscle group, rather than do the absolute number. So it's better to do five or six reps the right way than twelve or fifteen that use three muscles. If somebody, in doing a biceps exercise, incorporates their back muscles and their front shoulder muscles and everything else, they're not stressing their biceps nearly as much as if they used a much lighter weight and controlled and focused on the biceps properly.
Q: What is the benefit of concentrating on the whole range of a muscle's motion?
JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: The body has a very good memory, and if you train the muscle to work over it's complete arc of motion, when you go to use that muscle in some other event that you've trained for-whether it be hockey or baseball or football-it will remember being stressed through that whole range of motion. So in order to gain as much as possible you'd want to train that muscle through the entire range.
Q: You always hear that higher the weight builds strength, more reps builds size. Is this true?
JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: It's not that simple. The way the muscle builds is by breaking down muscle fibers and allowing the body to regrow those in a stronger way by giving them proper nutrition and rest time. So whether you do it with very high repetitions over many sets or you do it with a very heavy weight for a short amount of reps is a debate. I think it's probably best to do both and vary things.